Ronald Koeman hopes Lionel Messi can stay out of disciplinary trouble for the rest of the season as the Barcelona superstar teeters on the brink of suspension.
Barcelona have strung together a 17-game unbeaten run in LaLiga to transform their prospects, closing the gap on wobbling leaders Atletico Madrid to four points.
Messi, however, is just one yellow card away from a one-game ban, having been booked four times already, and an April 10 Clasico against Real Madrid is looming large.
It would suit Koeman if Messi could avoid any further bookings, but the coach will not let his team selections be ruled by the possibility of the Argentinian missing a future game.
Frenkie de Jong is in the same precarious position, and Koeman said: “We know they are one card away from the sanction, but it is what it is.
“I will not keep anyone in reserve. I hope they do not see a card. If they get it, another will play.”
Messi has gone beyond 20 goals in LaLiga for a 13th consecutive season, the only player to do so in the competition’s history, and he looks sure to start against Real Sociedad on Sunday.
It would be his 768th appearance for Barcelona, making him the outright all-time leader after drawing level with Xavi’s total when he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Huesca on Monday,
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With Barcelona already through to a Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, and on a charge in the league, talk has turned to the prospect of silverware.
Koeman’s first season as head coach has been turbulent at times but could yet end in a domestic double.
The Dutchman is not interested in such discussions, though, saying on Saturday: “I don’t like to talk about a double.
“This changes very quickly. Not long ago we were bad. We have to go game by game and we are four points behind and the calendar is very difficult.
“We have a final against a very difficult opponent. There is a long way to go to win things.”
Koeman warned of the danger of any slip-up, saying that “each defeat can be expensive” as he complimented Real Sociedad and their “great coach” Imanol Alguacil.
One player Koeman has not been able to count on recently has been young forward Ansu Fati, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since November.
Barcelona hoped to have Fati back by around this stage of the season, but Koeman said of the 18-year-old Spain international: “He is taking longer than we expected.
“In a few weeks he will be training out on the field again, but he is young and strong. We are not in a hurry.”